Found in Translation

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We at American Bible Society are delighted to join in the celebration of the Seed Company’s 25th birthday. Their goal of zero languages without Scripture matches our own vision to see 100% of the world’s languages open and accessible to Scripture by 2026. You might know us primarily for our work within the U.S., but we’ve actually been involved in international Bible translation for many years.

And, by the way, it’s remarkable to see the cooperation among different translation ministries. The Seed Company, Wycliffe, American Bible Society, and so many others —we’re teammates in this vital work. And there is plenty of work for all of us as we seek to eradicate Bible poverty.

In fact, as we focus on Bible ministry in the U.S., we can learn a lot from Bible translators.

A few generations ago, translation was mostly about words. But over the last half-century or so, Bible translators have learned more about their work. Language is embedded in culture, and culture gets messy. It’s full of stories, nuances, long-held expectations, and exceptions to the rule. A translator can’t just do the math and get a verbal equivalent. He or she has to study the culture and find the best way to express the message within that world of meaning. That’s the sort of Bible translation happening all over the globe now, and it’s exciting, challenging, and highly effective.

In U.S. churches, we often assume that, as long as people speak English, they’ll understand the message. But will they? Do the words sin, or holy, or reconcile, or truth mean the same things in your community that they used to? Perhaps the basic meaning can get through, but what cultural baggage goes along with it?

So, in this increasingly resistant culture, how can you get your life-transforming message across in a way that resonates with your people—in language that feels like home?

We have to get to know them. Just like Bible translators, we must pay attention to the the culture. What do people care about, inside and outside the church? What questions are they asking? What issues keep them up at night? Sure, we’ll find that some of them don’t want to hear our message. But others have a genuine curiosity about God, about truth, about faith, and they’re longing to hear something sensible from someone who speaks their language—someone who speaks their culture.

Smart ministry requires good information. That’s why we at American Bible Society have been scouring the data, to understand the millions of people who are curious about the Bible but not yet engaging with it. This understanding will yield practical ministry insights.

Justin Taylor